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A New Brain

I'm happy to report that the evening is just about as enjoyable as can be.

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A New Brain at Bald Theatre Company: from left, Cara Walkowiak, Rob James, Corey Nile Wingard, Sara Barbisch and Justin Zeno. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DIGITAL DOWLING PHOTOGRAPHY BY BECKY DOWLING.
  • Photo courtesy of Digital Dowling Photography by Becky Dowling.
  • A New Brain at Bald Theatre Company: from left, Cara Walkowiak, Rob James, Corey Nile Wingard, Sara Barbisch and Justin Zeno.

Not long after composer/lyricist William Finn won the 1992 Tony Award for his musical Falsettos, he collapsed. Diagnosed with an "arteriovenous malformation" -- a screwed-up artery/vein connection -- Finn underwent risky brain surgery. During his recovery, he later said, the music poured out of him. He turned those songs into the 1998 show A New Brain, a musical about a composer who collapses because of an "arteriovenous malformation."

And you'd never get from that how tremendously beautiful and life-affirming A New Brain is. The songs are some of the most beautiful ever written and the book, written with James Lapine, is funny without being shtick-y, and sentimental but never cloying.

The Bald Theatre Company presents A New Brain as its second-ever production, and I'm happy to report that the evening is just about as enjoyable as can be.

The big news is director Stephen Santa, and how at such a hideously young age (he's only 25) he continues to impress with an extraordinarily attuned sense of theatricality.

Last year I saw him give a great performance in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (another Finn musical). But that in no way prepared me for his work as director of last month's supersonic Stage 62 production of The Full Monty -- which, frankly, still astounds.

And now A New Brain. One of Santa's strengths is picking rock-solid performers and getting the best from them. I enjoyed all of them, so let me mention: Sara Barbisch, Natalie Hatcher, Rob James, Arlene Merryman, Jason Shavers, Cara Walkowiak, Dustin Wickett, Corey Nile Wingard and Justin Zeno. Each dives directly into his or her character, going as far as Finn could wish. And, as a big plus, they've got voices like angels.

Nancy Gordon Galluzzo and her pit band provide terrific accompaniment; the tempos go astray now and again, but you'd never believe that only five musicians could create such a full sound.

As with his Full Monty, Santa's still getting tripped up with scene transitions, and a little more attention to the smaller moments could give the production some polish. But that's minor bitching compared to all Santa and company have created.

 

The Bald Theatre Company presents A NEW BRAIN through Sat., Sept. 10. Grey Box Theatre, 3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-563-3357 or baldtheatre.org

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